Acting is a tough business and most people don’t realize that a lot of actors are basically independent contractors who are dependent upon others for work. The coronavirus pandemic has shut down Hollywood and sent a lot of people scrambling, so it’s not hard to imagine that someone would lie to secure a role – and that includes actresses like Jada Pinkett Smith.
Black actresses have had a hard time finding work traditionally in Hollywood, and the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag that arose a few years ago was proof positive of that. There’s been stories over the years of wild things people do to get roles, the behind the scenes of casting and even how they’ve had to go to bat for themselves for roles they believed in.
Back in 1990 or so, there was a hit television show you might have heard of – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which starred the then-rapper Will Smith in his own TV vehicle after reaching music success. Nia Long had a memorable role on the show as Will’s girlfriend – a role which she shared almost went to her good friend Pinkett, who was not yet married to Smith.
While Pinkett Smith was originally cast for the role, according to Long, producers instead recast Long in the role because she was 2-inches taller than Pinkett Smith. The height mattered because of how tall Will Smith is, standing at 6’2”. Pinkett Smith is a very petite 5’ tall and the look was important to producers at the time.
Long told People TV that she has a running joke with Pinkett Smith over the years, saying, “I got the job, but she got the husband.” The famous couple married back in 1997, while Jada was 3 months pregnant. Will and Jada have been together for decades, despite their current troubles sweeping the Internet.
Back in 2018, Viola Davis made an appearance at a “Women in the World” event in which she gave a fired-up testimonial about perceived inequalities in Hollywood – that extend just beyond a “pay gap” between Black women and White women.
“What they’re getting paid, which is half of what a man is getting paid … well, we get probably a tenth of what a Caucasian woman gets, and I’m No. 1 on the call sheet,” Viola says in the viral clip.
“I have a career that’s probably comparable to Meryl Streep, Julianne Moore, Sigourney Weaver,” she explained. “They all came out of Yale; they came out of Julliard; they came out of NYU. They had the same path as me. And yet I am nowhere near them, not as far as money, not as far as job opportunities — nowhere close to it.”
Jada herself has also shared how difficult booking work can be, even for a visible star like herself. She went on the record to discuss how she had to hide her pregnancy in order to book the role of Niobe in the Matrix trilogy – despite the fact that the role was written for her.
“I didn’t get Trinity, but they kept me in mind. And they wrote a part for me called Niobe,” she explained in a retrospective of her career for Vanity Fair. “And I’ll never forget when they called me in and they were like, Jada, we have this role for you, Niobe, but you’re pregnant.”
“And I’ll tell you a secret. I lied,” Pinkett Smith said. “Because Willow was supposed to be due November 11th but I told them, ‘No worries, the baby’s coming in October, so by the time the end of November comes, I’m going to be ready.’”
The lie ended up being the truth however, as Willow ended up coming on October 31st of that year.
“Let me tell you, my baby girl came on October 31st,” the actor said. “Do you know mama was ready. I was ready. End of November to start The Matrix. Pushed that baby out, got in the gym and got it together.”
While it’s not been confirmed that Jada will be returning for The Matrix 4, she did drop a hint previously on a red carpet that we may see Niobe return – so turns out a little lie never hurt anyone.